Broncos take on Rice in key WAC tilt

     Boise State's men's basketball team faces a crucial Western Athletic Conference bout this afternoon against Rice if the Broncos are to be a contender.  Tip-off is at 2 p.m. in Taco Bell Arena.  Rice is 7-4, coming off a 96-67 thrashing at the hands of UTEP Thursday night.  The Owls have lost to Louisiana-Lafayette, Syracuse and Connecticut.  They are 2-1 in the WAC, with wins over SMU (66-64 in OT) and Louisiana Tech (78-57).  Rice is outscoring opponents 75.3-71.0.  The Owls have a distinct advantage in field-goal shooting, hitting 48.1% of their shots and limiting opponents to a measly 40.9%.


     The Owls are averaging 16.2 turnovers per game, and this tendency has been especially damaging in the 4 losses.  The 2004-05 Rice team is undefeated at home with 7 wins, but winless on the road (0-4).  The key to the Owl attack is Michael Harris, who has led the team in scoring in all but three games this season.  Harris is 5th in the WAC in scoring at a 19.6 points per game clip.  He is also 2nd in the league in rebounding with a solid 11.4, 2nd in field-goal percentage (48.8%) and 3rd in free-throw percentage (80.9%).  Harris is a force on the offensive glass, and keeping him boxed out will be huge if the Broncos are to win this afternoon.


     Rice has two of the top 10 leaders in assists in Lorenzo Williams (5th at 4.27 per game) and Jason McKrieth (7th at 3.91 per contest).  McKrieth is also 3rd in the WAC in steals with 1.73 per game.  Rice uses basically a 7-man rotation with Harris, Williams, McKrieth, Brock Gillespie, J.R. Harrison, Lorenzo Williams, Jamaal Moore and Patrick Britton.  McKrieth is the only other player scoring in double figures (13.0 ppg), but Gillespie (9.9 ppg), Harrison (8.6 ppg) and Williams (8.2 ppg) are close.


     As mentioned above, turnovers have been a problem for Rice in its losses. McKrieth has 32 and Williams 28, but right behind them is Harris with 27, an unusually high number for a front-line player, especially for a scorer. Slowing Harris down is important, but as evidenced by the scoring statistics, the other 4 starters are capable scorers. The crowd size and noise will factor in, as Rice has shown itself to be affected in the 4 road losses. However, the losses to Connecticut and Syracuse featured crowds in excess of 16,000, the UTEP crowd topped 10,500 and even the Louisiana-Lafayette fans numbered over 4,000. Boise State will need to have a large, vocal crowd this afternoon to tap into one of the Owls' weaknesses.


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